A few quick notes on Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Glastonbury this weekend. Although there have been moments of brilliance in recent interviews, his public speaking is still so awkward…
But is that part of the appeal?
‘And… and… and…’
The speech is inconsistent in its use of rhetoric. What look to be lists of three often extend into a fourth or fifth point. Corbyn loses that sense of cohesion and conclusion that comes with the rule of three.
Something similar happens in his delivery: a sentence reaches its key message, but then continues into an extra detail, with Corbyn’s voice dropping in pitch and volume. The speech meanders through a series of topics, which affirms Corbyn as a guy who cares about a range of issues, but it misses the opportunity to deliver a memorable, take-home message.
New politics, old language
‘Special’ and ‘wonderful’ appear frequently, but a greater variety of adjectives would be welcome, especially in a speech that praises poetry.
Likewise, Corbyn uses a couple of very familiar slogans (‘Another world is possible’, ‘Build bridges not walls’), when this could’ve been an opportunity to either push the current line (‘For the many not the few’) harder, or introduce a new slogan.
A better vision
Corbyn is fantastic at offering a social vision, but less adept in creating imagery within his speeches. Sometimes he really bungles it. At one point, the New Politics comes ‘out of the box’, and we’re assured it’ll stay ‘out of the box’. Hardly the most inspiring image.
And Corbyn’s description of Shelley as a guy who ‘wrote many, many poems’. This could’ve been Trump speaking!
(It’s a fine choice of poem, though. I was reminded of Mick Jagger’s tribute to Brian Jones at Hyde Park in 1969, when he too read Shelley.)
Blowin’ in the wind
You’ll notice that Corbyn keeps looking to the clutch of A4 papers in his hand. It’s not a problem that he hasn’t memorised his speech, nor that he isn’t speaking entirely off the cuff. But could someone tell his communications team to print his notes onto A5 card, please?
The triumph of sincerity
Despite these stylistic reservations, this speech is undoubtedly a triumph. Corbyn conveys excitement, hope, and resilience. Most of all, he conveys sincerity.
Like the ‘kinder politics’ that was Corbyn’s earlier focus, the message here, while worthy, is hardly rousing or incendiary. So I do think it’s the delivery that makes this speech a success, but I’m not fully decided how this works…
… I’m thinking that his rejection of flashy PR smoothness is associated with his rejection of Blair and Cameron’s politics, so Corbyn’s awkwardness signifies sincerity.
… Meanwhile, the cynic in me wonders whether Corbyn’s uncoolness makes him eminently meme-able — in a way that Bernie Sanders, for example, is not — and this serves to endear him to younger (i.e. under 40!) voters.
… There’s a tension, for example, between Corbyn’s slightly rambling delivery and the pared-back, direct style of social media discourse with which his key demographics are so associated.
… Either way, just a degree more precision in the speechwriting and delivery would mean that Corbyn didn’t have to keep hammering his point, and could instead nail it with fewer but swifter blows.
Header photo: David Levene for the Guardian.